Shifting Tolerance in a Hybrid Economy


In a neighborhood near my home, there is a school playground with an enormous three story chain link fence along one side – presumably as a barrier for errant basketballs. The fence is constructed inches away from an adjacent home. I thought to myself "that would suck - I would probably rather have broken windows than live behind that huge fence". Then I thought of all sorts of examples of aggressive organizational behavior in our society that is tolerated, even though their behavior could easily be perceived as unfair or intrusive. I'm not suggesting that all business behavior is universally tolerated, but rather that their fundamental commercial presence is often quietly accepted. For example, we forgive the school's fence because we deem urban play areas for children are worth the tradeoffs. We also forgive Apple's fierce closedness, Google's ads, and Nike's ubiquitous branding. What's most interesting to me, however, is that we don't have a single standard for what is tolerated. There are some interesting nuances here. For example, I doubt my neighborhood would have tolerated a condo developer building a fence like that, and ubiquitous branding around your religion’s holiday is generally frowned upon.

Looking carefully at our culture's relationship to commerce, every business in some way lives on an unspoken agreement by the community to tolerate an incursive aspect of its existence (I'm presupposing that of course businesses provide meaningful value to customers ahead of their potentially invasive aspects).

Now consider our emerging hybrid economy. An organization operating in this new hybrid economy sits between the commercial economy of financial transactions and the sharing economy that thrives on free and open distribution of value (think of sharing as found within Wikipedia and Open Source Software). Take Google - a business operating in the hybrid economy with, among other things, YouTube. They rely on people openly sharing video content while they generate revenue from the accumulated eyeballs.

The emerging hybrid economy now shines the spotlight more brightly on a business’s tolerated behavior. If people don't embrace all aspects of a business, individuals might not just stop buying their products, they might stop sharing, which is an altogether new and potentially more disastrous fate. Rejection of a business would mean defection from its associated shared commons – to the detriment of society, not just specific product consumers.

The obvious question becomes then, how do you construct a business that leverages a hybrid economy without poisoning the sharing and good will? Where can these businesses carve out a profit and advantage around commercial behavior that is culturally tolerated? What specific aspects of hybrid businesses are required to facilitate social tolerance?